Between by Jessica Warman
Walker & Company, 2011
Elizabeth Valchar – pretty, popular, and perfect – wakes up the morning after her eighteenth birthday party on her family’s yacht, where she’d been celebrating with her six closest friends. A persistent thumping noise has roused her. When she goes to investigate, what she finds will change everything she thought she knew about her life, her friends, and everything in between. As Liz begins to unravel the circumstances surrounding her birthday night, she will find that no one around her, least of all Liz herself, was perfect – or innocent. Critically-acclaimed author Jessica Warman brings readers along on a roller-coaster ride of a mystery, one that is also a heartbreaking character study, a touching romance, and ultimately a hopeful tale of redemption, love, and letting go.
Liz Valchar is one of those annoyingly beautiful, popular and perfect girls you meet in high school. However, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, when she and her equally popular and good-looking friends are partying it up on her father’s boat (which is named after her, of course), Liz is roused from her sleep by a thumping sound that irritates her so much she gets up to see what it is, and is completely shocked when she finds her own body face down in the water, dead. Soon after, she meets Alex, a schoolmate (but not a friend) who was killed the previous year in a mysterious hit-and-run accident, and the two of them set out to discover the truth behind Liz’s death. How did she die? Who is responsible? Throughout it all, Liz must come to terms with the fact that she really wasn’t as perfect as she wanted everyone to believe.
This book grabbed me from the get-go, especially once Liz sees her own body in the water. Liz is not a nice girl: there are several instances throughout this book where we get to see just how awful she really was. And then there’s Alex, whom Liz doesn’t like, mostly because he was a “nobody” in school: poor, nerdy, and a loner. I especially liked how he stood up to her in death (in a way he never could have in life) and made her realize exactly what type of person she was. I liked their growing relationship, as Liz had to come to terms with not only her death, but having to spend this “between” stage with someone she treated horribly in life. This was very much a coming of age book, in that Liz has a lot of growing up to do in order to figure out what exactly happened to her that night on the boat.
I enjoyed her interactions with Alex a lot; I felt like he was sort of the voice of reason, and didn’t shy away from telling her when she was being a complete and utter bitch. It was Alex’s versions of her life that made Liz realize just how terrible she’d been to those who she deemed unworthy of her attention, or even her general politeness. Usually I find it difficult to read books that are narrated by “mean girl” characters, but Liz had a vulnerability to her that made her easier to take; it also didn’t hurt that, throughout most of it, she knew very well that Alex was right and that she was behaving deplorably. I enjoyed watching her “grow up”, so to speak, even if it didn’t happen until after her death.
I do want to point out that Liz is suffering from anorexia in this book, though, and the scenes when she’s talking about calorie intake or her nonstop need for control might be triggering for people who are suffering from the disease, so just a heads-up regarding that bit of the story. Also, it was really nice to see a stand-alone book! So much of what’s released nowadays are series books that it was great to see a title that managed an entire plot arc in one volume.
There were lots of twists and turns in this story; I was constantly guessing about what had happened, and who was responsible, and why Liz died in the first place. The pacing and writing in this book were really first-rate; there was never a moment where things slowed down or lulled, but at the same time it wasn’t non-stop, can’t catch my breath action, either. Once I hit the midway point I simply didn’t want to stop reading until everything was figured out. It was gripping and intense, and I enjoyed every bit of it. Definitely recommended.